I'm considering a PhD or Master's in engineering in the US, and I haven't really decided which makes the most sense for me. There are many questions and answers here that mention leaving a PhD program with a Master's and how it's not a "failure" or "dropping out", but it occurs to me: what effect does this have on a person's adviser/professors?
What about references, future relationships, etc? Is it taken negatively or as an insult, or cutting ties, to bow out with the lower degree?
What prompted this question is that a few programs that most interest me state explicitly that there is very little funding available for Masters students (so you are mostly expected to pay your own way), but full funding and additional opportunities are available for those admitted to a PhD program. The way they are worded, they seem extremely interested in good PhD candidates, and not at all interested in Masters students.
I'm not considering seeking a PhD solely to get a Masters/funding, because that's just outright dishonest and I wouldn't stomach such deceit. But, what might the ethics be of not being certain whether you want a PhD or a Masters, but applying for a PhD program?
If one's adviser and/or program and/or professors are explicitly harmed by having someone complete their Masters requirements, then I'd be much more hesitant to even consider a PhD application unless I was certain that's what I wanted. If being unsure is considered normal and the "harm" caused by bowing out of the program with a Masters not so great, then that would certainly ease things the other direction.
To be clear, these departments also specifically suggest you pick Masters OR PhD, and generally discourage you from applying to both. Thus my quandary!